Cannabis legalization. North America v Portugal v Holland
The cannabis world is going through a legalisation revolution, with each country adopting their own preferred legal system. And the differences between these emerging legal models of cannabis distribution are quite remarkable.
The Netherlands may be the longest established model of tolerance with a massive tourist industry based on the celebrated Amsterdam cannabis coffee shop culture. Yet surprisingly there is still no legal system of large-scale cannabis production in The Netherlands, the coffee shops are forced to buy their stock on the black market. This costs the Dutch government €millions in tax, yet is is a system that shows no signs of immediate change. A generation of Dutch politicians have avoided the issue rather than address it in a logical way as the North Americans have done. Cannabis can also be obtained through a pharmacy with a doctors prescription, but this isn’t easy to obtain due to the reservation of many doctors. Additionally, many types of medical insurance don’t cover the costs of medical cannabis. There is a wide variety of Bedrocan cannabis types available. And of course, you can buy cannabis in any Amsterdam coffeeshop if you are over 18. Most Dutch cities and even some villages have coffee shops. Some of the municipalities in the south of Holland restrict coffeeshop access to Dutch citizens but in the majority of the Dutch coffee shops, including the ones in Amsterdam, everyone above 18 years is welcome.
USA. There has been a state-by-state domino effect in the USA with around half the USA enjoying legal cannabis at state level. In states where cannabis is legal only for medical use a doctors note is needed to buy cannabis. In states where recreational use is permitted you only need to prove you are old enough to buy it. And, depending on the local state rules you may be allowed to grow a small number of plants for your own use. Large scale cannabis farming is only possible with an official license.
Canada. Unlike the USA, the Canadian Government has announced plans to legalize cannabis nationally in 2017. Health Canada plays a leading role in the medical use of cannabis, and licensed producers have to apply for a license to grow it. In the future all Canadians hope to be able to grow a few plants for their personal use, but large scale growing will not be allowed unless you have an official license.
Portugal has its own unique approach to drug laws, with all drug use de-criminalized. Use of drugs is seen as a health issue rather than a legal/criminal issue. If you are caught with drugs the focus is on offering rehabilitation if hard addictive drugs are involved. 25g of cannabis, or less, is not viewed as a health issue or a criminal issue. You are free to enjoy it at your leisure. Many other countries point to the Portuguese method for helping to contribute to an improvement in the overall health of the individuals involved in drugs. Production, sale and transport of drugs (including cannabis) remain illegal in Portugal, this ensures a thriving black market.
Which approach is best?
Opinions vary dramatically. For many years the Dutch tolerance of cannabis coffee shops was hailed as a successful example of taking cannabis off the streets and allowing jobs to be created and tax to be paid. Whats more, the Dutch were not burdening their young generation with a criminal record like the rest of the world.
But the Portuguese took a different approach, and decriminalised the use of all drugs. Unlike the Dutch model, there is not the same commercial opportunities for Portuguese jobs and tax from the cannabis industry. But the Portuguese model was, and still is, regarded by many as the most socially progressive since it de-stigmatises drug use and treats it as a health issue. But the Portuguese decriminalisation model lacked the ability to deal with the commercial side.
Enter the USA, which has the worlds biggest, and fastest growing, legal cannabis market. In North America you can get a license to grow, sell, distribute, transport or process (concentrate) cannabis. Businesses often struggle to keep up with demand, there are plenty of jobs. It’s a multi billion dollar industry which many think will eventually rival the alcohol industry in size. The tax revenues are also high, and many other countries will follow the USA model for the financial benefits as well as the fast way it has taken organised crime out of the supply picture.
The only constant is change
We are only just seeing just the beginning of the legal cannabis market starting to take off and affect the shops in the high streets. Laws will be changed, and eventually all mainstream countries will see cannabis use normalised. Its a great time to be observing the collapse of cannabis prohibition.